Mental health is a crisis in the world today. 1.6 million people are waiting for mental health services, and another 8 million need care but cannot get on a waiting list due to increased demand over the last two years. As a result, even young children who wish to die are arriving at emergency rooms in despair.
But why is there so much suffering? First, of course, the current situation is traumatic and uncertain. People are struggling to keep up with the cost of living while also dealing with ongoing grief, isolation, and contagion.
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Dr. Sanah Ahsan, a professional psychologist with 10 years of experience in NHS services, has seen firsthand how we are failing people by attributing their difficulties to some mental illness or psychological condition instead of recognizing the social and political causes of their suffering.
“Will six CBT sessions, intended to address “unhelpful” thought patterns, be genuinely successful for someone unsure how they will provide for their family for the next week?
Antidepressants won’t erase the ongoing racial trauma that a black guy is experiencing in a hostile workplace, and labeling victims of sexual assault as having a mental illness won’t help them stay safe in a society where two women are killed every week in their own homes.”
Young people struggling with poverty, peer pressure, and competitive exam-driven school environments, where bullying and social media damage are rampant, are not benefiting from mindfulness.
Dr. Sanah Ahsan argues that it would be more effective to recognize the oppressive conditions that people live in rather than just attributing their suffering to some mental illness or psychological condition.
The myth of brain chemistry imbalance
A recent study has found that a chemical imbalance in the brain is not the root cause of depression. Unfortunately, implying that our brains are permanently damaged only stigmatizes mental anguish further. This myth diverts attention away from people’s oppressive environments and places the cause and solution in the individual.
Antidepressants can help some people cope, and individual counseling is excellent for many others. However, Dr. Sanah Ahsan is concerned that a solely medicalized, individualized concept of mental health covers up deep wounds instead of addressing the root cause. This approach nudges people towards system adaptation, maintaining the status quo in the process.
This approach hits marginalized and impoverished people the hardest. Marginalized and improvised people’s reasonable displays of anguish in today’s society are often medicalized. Consequently, marginalized and impoverished people are more likely than any other group to be overmedicated in our current mental health system.
Liberation psychology offers several lessons for the UK. Ignacio Martin Baró, a Salvadorean activist and psychologist who founded the organization in the 1980s, believes that people cannot separate “mental health problems” from the larger socioeconomic systems. People’s experiences with oppression and oppressive histories give rise to suffering.
Liberation psychology values individuals’ lineages, creativity, and experience rather than forcing them into a white, Eurocentric, and individualistic treatment. It actively combats the social, cultural, and political causes of suffering through group social action.
Dr. Sanah Ahsan clarified that she’s not suggesting that distressed individuals should be on the picket line. Mental illness is real and debilitating. But those who care for people in need, like mental health professionals, can play an important role in ushering in societal change. Social action is the remedy for easing people’s misery, individually and collectively.
Real change takes time
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that significant changes can happen quickly, meaningful structural reform will take time. The systems harming many of us can be resisted, but change won’t come without us. Our distress may even be a sign of health.
We need to look at our environment, like the analogy of a wilting plant. People need secure, inexpensive homes, natural access, and a universal basic income. Loved ones, the community, or social services can be considered food.
The most efficient treatment would include addressing the oppressive aspects of society that are the source of our suffering. To help us all get through these difficult times, we must accept the help offered. After all, life is complicated.